Raj Shekhar’s beginning as a lyricist was quite unusual. He started out as an Assistant Director to Aanand L Rai and was later recommended by a friend from the team to write the lyrics of the Kangana Ranaut and R Madhavan starrer Tanu Weds Manu. “I was just asked one fine day if I was interested in writing songs, primarily because a few people knew I enjoyed writing,” he quipped. And that’s how it all began.
Raj Shekhar has penned lyrics for Tanu Weds Manu and Tanu Weds Manu Returns. His recent work includes Hichki’s “Madamji, Go Easy” and “Khol De Par.” Raj Shekhar is currently working on an untitled Phantom film and Aanand L Rai’s production venture Meri Nimmo.
When he’s not writing songs, Raj Shekhar can be found performing with his troupe, centered around and inspired by the capital’s Majnu ka Tilla, a colony in the North Delhi district.
Excerpts from the interview:
What’s your process when you sit down to write a particular kind of track?
Every song has its own process. For instance, Hichki’s “Madamji, Go Easy” was one of the toughest songs I had ever had to work on. It is a breezy track and a fun number, but it put me to task for good. By the end of it all, I almost wanted to quit. I went through a 100 options before settling down with the catchphrase, “Madamji, Go Easy. Sab Wifi, hum 3G.”
One thing that I think of primarily before writing any song is that of the character. The characters that will be filmed lip-syncing the song, or the backstory of the said characters. It really informs the song. The track doesn’t belong to me, the composer, or even to the filmmaker. It’s the property of the characters.
Madamji has been lip-synced by characters who belong to a less-privileged background. Therefore, the song too has come from that place.
In a line like “Vasco da Gama, Columbus ka mama. Ghar na thikana, tiffin se khana,” the words mirror the thoughts of a student who’s not that academically-bent. While the teacher is scribbling something on the blackboard, his mind wanders to subjects that he thinks are much more important and fun to think about. I was that student (laughs).
How difficult is it to write for kids?
Let’s just say that it’s not easy as many presume it to be. See, I write books and poetry that cater to a much younger audience, and that’s how I know how difficult it can be. One of the most interesting things about writing for children is that you have to assume that they are not actually kids. Because ‘they’ don’t see themselves as children. Kids have to be thought of as thinking individuals in their own right, you have to give them that respect.
What was your headspace when you sat down to write the lyrics for Qarib Qarib Singlle’s popular romantic track Jaane De?
For a large part of my work, I dig deep into the past. I try and relive my experiences. I collect all my material for a song from my life. I don’t know how it is for other artists, but I am selfish as a writer. I think of only what I have gone through and try and put it into words. Art has always been personal for me. Of course, you have to have empathy, you have to know how to interpret the silence. What is that subject that a person has not chosen to speak about and why? The better half of poetry is learning to translate that silence and to transform it into something that’s worthwhile. That sensitivity comes to an individual from his/her experiences.
A number of components make up a song. Lyricists, composers, singers, actors make a number great or bad. While singers and composers have now come into their own, do you think Bollywood really recognises the worth of lyricists?
Someone’s body of work makes them what they are, whether they are worthy of fame and the riches. This is true for the most part. While Gulzar Sahab and Javed Akhtar Ji have been flag-bearers for lyricists in the Hindi film industry, there are some who are yet to get their due. It can be difficult to make a mark in such a big place, and especially in a profession that’s not actively involved in the glamour part of the showbiz, but then it’s also foolhardy to compare yourself to Gulzar Sahab and Akhtar Sahab. They are revered for a reason. They have a great command over language, over their craft. And it’s also taken them quite a while to get where they are right now.
However, I have to say that I am a bit disappointed with the overall quality of songs. Just a few days ago, a friend of mine, a music director was excited about coming across a ‘new’ word. The word in question was ‘Ruswai’ (slander). This is also because we have been removed from the world of books. However, there’s still some light left. Among my peers, I really admire the work of Varun Grover, Amitabh Bhattacharya, and Irshad Kamil.
Why do you think we don’t see great work so often by the industry in terms of music?
There are a number of things that should be taken into account. A lot of us are overburdened by work, quite a few of us work on multiple projects simultaneously. And there are deadlines to meet. Then you have to adhere to certain things that the producer or filmmaker wants to incorporate into a certain song. This doesn’t happen always, but whenever it does, you tend to veer from your natural path, therefore comprising the quality of the song. A lot also depends on the team you work with.
How do you work out a song? Do you read the script, or do you see the film?
Usually, I hear the script out. With Tanu Weds Manu and Tanu Weds Manu Returns, I had heard the script beforehand. But with Hichki, I joined the team a little late and was showed a sequence which informed the songs I wrote for the film (“Madamji, Go Easy” and “Khol De Par”).
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines